George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 5 November 1779

To Henry Laurens

West-point Novr 5th 1779

Dear Sir,

I am much indebted to you for your obliging favors of the 7th1 & 24th of last month, and offer my thanks for the several agreeable pieces of intelligence contained in the latter. No part of which believe me Sir, gave more sincere pleasure than the acct of your appointment to the States of Holland—No person (if you will permit me to say as much) is more impressed with the importance of those duties which I conceive to be the object of your mission, than you are—nor no one whose punctuality & close attention to business affords a happier presage of success, to any negotiation within the reach of our powers—and reasonable expectations.

Your observations upon the resolve of Congress “to stop the press” are striking, and awakens those ideas which I entertained on this subject at the time of passing it2—I reconciled myself however to the measure, at that time from a perswation that such previous assurances had been obtained—founded in clear & demonstrable evidence of the certainty of getting the necessary supplies by taxation & loans, as would leave nothing to chance To find the promoters of the measure impressed with doubts is not a little alarming, when we consider the consequences of a failure. A Virtuous exertion in the States respectively—and in the individuals of each State—may effect a great deal—But alas, virtue & patriotism are almost kicked out! Stock Jobbing—Speculating—engrossing—&ca—&ca—seems to be the great business of the day—and of the multitude—whilst a virtuous few struggle—lament—& suffer in silence—tho’ I hope not in vain.

Your state of matters respecting the cloathing department is not less distressing—what pity it is that the work of a day should be postponed a Week! a month! a year! When not a possible good, but much evil is the inevitable consequence of it.3

Our sollicitude on acct of the operations at Savanna may easily be conceived when I add, that we have not heard a tittle from thence since the receipt of your obliging letter of the 24th & our anxiety for European news is little inferior—the present æra is big of events—We turn an impatient eye to the Sea-board, looking for the arrival of the french fleet; and begin to apprehend much from the Season &ca—It would be a most desirable thing to be ascertained of the extent of Count D’Estaing’s intentions in this quarter, that not more than corrispondant preparations may be made—At present our situation is aukward & expensive.4

Nothing new has happened in these parts since the evacuation of Rhode-Island5—report indeed informs us, that the Troops of that garrison did not disembark at New-York, but receiving an augmentation of Hessians proceeded to the Hook—and from thence to Sea—the truth of this, & of Transports Wooding and Watering, I shall soon have authentic Accounts of.6

I perswade myself, that it is unnecessary for me to have recourse to assurances, to prove the sincere pleasure with which I should receive my worthy Aid Colo. Laurens—It is an event however, I have little expected since I have heard of his late appointment—nor shall I suffer a selfish wish to come into the scale of determination—His abilities in whatsoever station they are employed will render essential services to his Country—My attachment therefore to him nor my desire of benefitting by his Aid shall not weigh in the ballance7—For his past services and attention to me, he will ever have my warmest thanks. For his honor—happiness—& advancement in life—my unfeigned wishes.8 these in every step you take—in every station of life to which you may be called, will also attend you—as I can with truth assure you that with the greatest esteem & regard—I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt & Affecte Servt

Go: Washington

ALS, probably enclosed in GW to John Mitchell, 6 Nov., ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Laurens completed this letter on 9 October.

2GW is referring to financial measures that Congress advanced in late summer 1779 (see GW to John Jay, 25 Sept., and n.1 to that document).

3In his letter of 7–9 Oct., Laurens discussed delays in receiving clothing from France.

4A letter of 10 Nov. from Samuel Huntington gave GW official notice of the American and French defeat at Savannah on 9 Oct. and of the subsequent allied withdrawal. After learning that Vice Admiral d’Estaing’s French fleet would not come north, GW ended preparations for a combined offensive that fall (see Planning for an Allied Attack on New York, c.3–7 Oct., editorial note; see also GW to Duportail and Alexander Hamilton, 11 Nov.; to Henry Knox, 12 Nov.; to Huntington, 20 and 24 Nov.; and to Philip Schuyler, 24 Nov.).

5For the British evacuation of Rhode Island on 25 Oct., see GW to Duportail and Hamilton, 30 Oct., and notes 1 and 2 to that document.

6For the probable source of this intelligence and its later elaboration, see Anthony Wayne to GW, 4 Nov., and Silvanus Seely to GW, 11 November.

7In a letter to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, written from Morristown, N.J., on 6 Dec., Lt. Col. John Laurens declined his appointment as secretary to the minister plenipotentiary to France because of “inexperience in politics” and uneasiness over his capacity to meet “expectations in a commission of such importance” (DNA:PCC, item 165).

8John Laurens arrived at GW’s headquarters from the southern department in later November (see Nathanael Greene to GW, 23 Nov., postscript). Laurens explained some of his earlier movements in a letter, presumably to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, written aboard the French frigate Iphigénie on 28 Oct.: “As the Iphegenie will be detained in port ’till the next Spring Tides—and it is probable that the Division of Ships ordered to the Chesapeak will proceed without her—I have thought it most prudent to embark on board a pilot boat bound to the Fleet—Nothing on my part shall be wanting to deliver your dispatches for Congress with that expedition so necessary in our present circumstances” (NNGL; see also John Laurens to Henry Laurens, 22 Oct., in Laurens Papers, description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends 15:193–94, and Massey, John Laurens, description begins Gregory D. Massey. John Laurens and the American Revolution. Columbia, S.C., 2000. description ends 149).

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